The aim of this trip was to understand the work of the Dutch Dachau Committee and gain knowledge of how the history of the Dachau concentration camp is remembered in the Netherlands. In addition, the visit aimed to understand how the Second World War is presented in the Netherlands within various museums and popular productions.
The Max Mannheimer Studienzentrum
Following years of debate upon the possibility of building a study center with accommodation next to the Memorial Center of the former Dachau concentration camp, the Jugendgästehaus was opened on 4 May 1998. In 2010 the education center was titled, the Max Mannheimer Studienzentrum after a Jewish survivor of Dachau who was greatly involved in the protection of Holocaust history. Mannheimer, as President of the Lagergemeinschaft, assisted in the preservation of the camp by supporting the construction of the Jugendgästehaus. After his death, on the 23rd of September, 2016, the study center was commemoratively named Stiftung Max-Mannheimer-Haus.
Experiencing the Second World War
During the study trip several venues were visited, including the Vught Memorial Site and the Resistance Museum (Verzetsmuseum) in Amsterdam. At these locations educators explained their mechanisms for conveying history to young people and what educational materials they use. The staff of the MMSZ found it remarkable that many popular resources, such as educational feature films and games, were employed to foster youth education. Another difference between German and Dutch educational methods is that “re-living history” is a key term in Dutch memorial centers and museums. Vught's educational staff and that of the Verzetsmuseum indicated it is important that during visits young people can learn about the experience of childhood during the war. For this reason much is done with objects and built-up spaces, to present experiences such as narrow train spaces during deportation.
The use of staged images and the simulation differs from that in Germany. In the educational program of the MMSZ and the Dachau memorial site, staff are reluctant to use these techniques. In my opinion, this difference in educational ideas results from the dominance of the perpetrator's perspective in Germany and the victim's perspective in the Netherlands.
This difference also applied during the visit to the musical Soldier of Orange. In the Netherlands, the musical has greatly influenced the public’s image of Second World War and especially that of the resistance. It has run continuously in Holland for nearly seven years, with an audience of over two million people. In Germany, it is still not possible to stage a musical that addresses the Second World War in such a spectacular way, specifically in which a heroic story about the Dutch resistance is highlighted.
Discovering history on location
The last part of the study trip involved an educational seminar in the Amersfoort memorial camp. The purpose of this seminar was to inform secondary schools and other educational institutions about the educational program of the MMSZ and the subsidies granted by the International Dachau Committee (CID) for visits to the Dachau concentration camp.
The goal of the MMSZ is to let small groups of young people participate in workshops to discover the history of the Dachau concentration camp and experience its historical location. It is especially emphasized that visitors have time for reflection and discussion within these workshops. To achieve this, the concentration camp is visited twice during the MMSZ educational program; first during a general tour and then during a thematic workshop, for example about biographies or taking pictures of the memorial site. The students themselves can choose in which workshop they want to participate.
Learning history on-site is more effective than just being lectured at in a school setting. This was pointedly highlighted by two students from the Casparus College in Weesp and two college students from Madurodam, who followed the educational program in the MMSZ. By being on location, participants stated they were able to come closer to history, gaining a better understanding of the camp’s impact upon individuals. History became more personal, while in the classroom only facts and figures were shared, or even accessible. In addition the participants pointed out that being in the historical location, they became more aware of the value of today’s freedom and of the relevance of the May 4th commemoration. One of Caspar's students said that she had never previously participated in the commemoration but this has changed after her visit to Dachau. This year she remembered the Dachau victims through prayer and better understood the relevance and significance of the May 4th commemoration in the Netherlands.
During this seminar in Amersfoort it became clear that visits to historical sites can be strongly associated with stimulating youth interest and thought about history. By visiting the places students understand history better and understand why we still remember these victims on 4 May. In addition students learn the relevance of history to today's social developments, and how the past can be employed to present future wars, dictatorships and persecutions.
The Dutch and German educational staff exchange further fostered understanding of how certain topics were addressed in both countries and why more "popular" resources were used in the Netherlands to involve young people in the history of the Second World War.
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Max Mannheimer Studienzentrum (in german)
Images of the seminar.